News > In the Headlines
Schools' 'hidden hand' targeted
By Rosalind Rossi & Lisa Donovan
Chicago school protesters got personal Wednesday, gathering outside the home of the man they called "the hidden hand" behind Renaissance 2010 after Chicago School Board members voted to create dozens of new schools under the initiative.
More than 100 people jammed the driveway, lawn and street outside the Kenwood home of Board of Education chief officer David Vitale, using a makeshift bullhorn to demand a meeting with him.
They called Vitale the "architect" of both Renaissance 2010, which aims to create 100 schools out of about 70 troubled ones, as well as a plan involving the closure of 20 Mid-South schools, since disavowed by top officials.
"We believe he's the hidden hand," said Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.
Parents pumping signs turned Vitale's quiet, tree-lined street into a protest zone, chanting: "David Vitale, he won't talk. That is why we're in this walk."
Though the commotion roused some neighbors, Vitale, reportedly on vacation, never emerged. About 30 police officers dispersed the protesters after 15 minutes.
The demand to meet with Vitale, former Chicago Board of Trade CEO who now is paid $1 a year overseeing much of the board's business, emerged hours earlier during a sometimes testy board meeting. There, protesters said that perhaps Vitale could answer questions about the school closing list that others have dodged.
"He's a millionaire. He's paid $1 a year. Where is he?" Karen Colbert of the community organization asked School Board members. "We want to meet with him. We haven't been able to get answers. We want answers."
The Mid-South closing list has been ashcanned, officials insist, but its revelation has caused confusion and uproar over the rest of Renaissance 2010.
Confronted Wednesday with the rising test scores of one school on the list, even board President Michael Scott conceded he had no idea why it had been included.
Board spokesman Peter Cunningham said Vitale did not oversee the Mid-South plan, although he did supervise the board employee who guided its development. Vitale is "one of many people" involved in Renaissance 2010, and he helped organize the business committee that is raising $50 million for it, Cunningham said.
"There's no single head" of Renaissance 2010, Cunningham said. "[Schools CEO] Arne Duncan is the head."
Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart and others asked board members to delay their vote to create three kinds of Renaissance 2010 schools -- including two run by private operators --but five members approved the plan unanimously Wednesday. The vote came several hours after school officials announced members of committees that will decide the future of six new Renaissance 2010 schools.
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